27 Nov 2012
There has been a considerable deterioration in both the accuracy and completeness of the electoral register in Northern Ireland over the last four years according to a report published today by the Electoral Commission, the independent elections watchdog. It estimates that approximately 400,000 people are not registered at their correct address and that as many as one in five of the entries on the register are inaccurate.
The report - ‘Continuous electoral registration in Northern Ireland’ - finds that the electoral register is 71% complete and 78% accurate. The previous assessment carried out in 2008 estimated the register to be 83% complete and 94% accurate.
The report suggests that the processes currently employed by the Chief Electoral Officer to manage the register under continuous registration have not kept pace with either people moving home or people becoming newly eligible to join the register. As a result there has been a significant decline in the quality of the electoral register.
“The findings of our research are a matter of serious concern. They could have far reaching consequences for both participation and public confidence in elections in Northern Ireland” said Anna Carragher, Electoral Commissioner for Northern Ireland.
“We have important elections coming up over the next four years which will depend on complete and accurate electoral registers. Continuing with the status quo for managing the register is simply not an option. That is why we are calling on the Chief Electoral Officer, with the support of the UK Government, to put in place an immediate action plan to address the findings identified in our report”.
In the report the Commission sets out a number of recommendations, including:
- A comprehensive action plan to begin in early 2013 by the Chief Electoral Officer, which includes contact with every household in Northern Ireland, to verify and update entries on the register and to identify new registrants.
- A change in electoral law to allow for a more flexible form of annual canvass whereby households as well as individuals can be asked to update their registration details. The names of those failing to respond would be retained on the register provided the Chief Electoral Officer was satisfied that their status had not changed.
- A review of the current arrangements in place for data matching and consideration of other data sources that could be used to enhance the accuracy and completeness of the electoral register.
- A statutory performance standards framework in place for the Chief Electoral Officer so that he can measure his performance against independently set standards and so that his management of the electoral register can be benchmarked against Electoral Registration Officers in Great Britain.
“It is essential that this programme of work gets under way well ahead of the European Parliamentary election and possible local government elections in 2014. The Commission is ready to provide support and advice to the Chief Electoral Officer to tackle the problems identified in our report.” added Anna Carragher.
The Chief Electoral Officer can recommend a full canvass of electors to take place. However the Commission is not recommending such a move before 2014 because the Chief Electoral Officer would be unable to carry forward the names of those who failed to respond, even if he had good reason to think they were entitled to remain on the register.
The Commission will undertake a further study into the levels of accuracy and completeness in Northern Ireland in 2014.
Read the full report, Continuous electoral registration in Northern Ireland (PDF), here.
For further information and/or interview requests contact:
Cahir Hughes on 028 9089 4023 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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Notes to Editor
- The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. Our aim is integrity and public confidence in the UK’s democratic process. We regulate party and election finance, set standards for well-run elections and are responsible for the conduct and regulations of referendums held under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000).
- The research was carried out by ICM Research, an independent market research agency. A sample of 1,500 addresses was randomly selected from across Northern Ireland from March to July 2012.
- The register for local council and Northern Ireland Assembly elections is 71% complete and 78% accurate. The register in Northern Ireland for UK Parliamentary elections is 73% complete and 78% accurate.
- There has been no Northern Ireland wide canvass of electors since 2006. Rather a system of continuous registration operates, whereby eligible electors can register and amend their details at any time.
- The Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland is the registration officer for all elections in Northern Ireland. If he deems it necessary he can make a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to run a canvass. However, a canvass of electors must take place by 2016 if one has not been conducted before the end of 2015.
- For the purposes of the research the definitions of accuracy and completeness are:
- Accuracy: ‘there are no false entries on the electoral registers’
- Completeness: ‘every person who is entitled to have an entry in an electoral register is registered’.
- These definitions are different from those used in the previous research in Northern Ireland, on the December 2007 register. In that research, the accuracy of a register entry related only to the address, i.e. whether the person on the register was still resident at the address. The Commission’s current definition of inaccuracy includes errors related to the elector’s name, although we exclude minor errors such as slight misspellings of an elector’s name which would not prevent an eligible elector from being able to vote. Comprehensiveness was defined as the percentage of the eligible population who are on the register regardless of where they live in Northern Ireland. The Commission’s current definition of completeness requires an elector to be registered at their current address in order to be considered ‘complete’.